Specific vs General Lockpicking

For this article, I thought it might be useful to take a look at two meanings of lockpicking which are floating around in common usage, both by people in the locksport community, and those outside.

This won’t be a deep dive into etymology, but rather an attempt to draw out a distinction between two different ways “lockpicking” is used, and that sometimes causes confusion. I will refer to these as “lockpicking specific”, and “lockpicking general”.

Lockpicking Specific

This definition is the one most commonly used within the community. It can be reduced to:

“non-destructively manipulating a lock open by applying tension to a lock mechanism, and then individually manipulating the components into their correct positions.”

It’s basically the exact same as “single pin picking”, except it also applies in cases where the elements aren’t pins, and it can also include methods such as raking, depending on the context.

After all, you wouldn’t consider a lock “unpickable” if you couldn’t manipulate the elements individually, but a raking attack was trivial, would you?

Lockpicking General

Which leads me into “lockpicking general”. This is a much looser definition of lockpicking. It basically amounts to:

“Any non-destructive or covert method for opening a lock.”

This includes but is not limited to:

  • “Lockpicking specific”
  • raking
  • bumping
  • decoding (visual, audio, etc)
  • impressioning
  • self impressioning
  • Bypassing the locking mechanism
So, why does it matter?

I can recall plenty of conversations I’ve been involved with where different parties were making the mistake of using different definitions when talking about lockpicking, and it results in quite some confusion at times, as well as frustration and anger.

It’s also worth keeping this in mind when it comes to certain specific topics – such as “unpickable” locks. I have plenty of thoughts to offer on this topic, which I hope to espouse in the future. For now, I’ll just say that for people considering “unpickable” lock designs, it’s worth keeping in mind that no-one particularly cares about “lockpicking specific” in this scenario. (Not least because I believe the problem of a lock that cannot be picked in the specific sense has been solved long ago with minimal interest by the late Norman Epstein)

An excellent example of this is the attack on the Forever Lock V1, which aimed to prevent lockpicking attacks by preventing access to the locking mechanism at the time of testing:

And from our own HuxleyPig, tackling the Bowley:

Just because it’s not possible, or simply needs a redesigned pick, to slip picks in to attack the lock mechanism, doesn’t mean that the lock is invulnerable to any non-destructive attack. There are countless examples of this, marketed at people who have a desire for better security, and who like the idea of owning an unpickable lock.

I would gently encourage anyone looking at such locks to consider that in cases where resistance to covert or surreptitious entry are real concerns – for example military and intelligence document containers – no solution has yet been found that prevents every method of covert or surreptitious entry.

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